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National NOW Times >> Winter 2003/2004 >> Article

Drive for Equality Underway, Big Challenges Ahead

by Linda Berg, Political Director

As we enter 2004, few remember a time in our political history where women's rights were more in jeopardy. With the signing of the so-called "Partial-Birth Abortion" Ban, the passage of a deceptive medicare bill and the introduction of a constitutional amendment to prevent same-sex couples from marrying, it is apparent that our political enemies delight in running roughshod over fundamental freedoms. And as story after story emerges about Attorney General John Ashcroft's illegal campaign contributions, Halliburton's outrageous war profiteering and the unabashed packing of our courts with judges bent on benefitting the rich and powerful, it is clear that the right wing has declared open class and gender warfare. Their hubris knows no bounds.

With over 500,000 contributing members, it is up to us, NOW more than ever, to exercise our political muscle and invigorate our grassroots base to make sure that women's rights supporters show up at the polls in November 2004—in numbers too great to ignore. The Drive for Equality is NOW's campaign to do just that.

NOW's former president Eleanor Smeal, a political scientist, was the first person to identify the gender gap—and now it is a gender gulf. Analysis of the past two presidential elections demonstrate that women and men have strikingly different voting patterns. In the 1996 election, the majority of women voted for Bill Clinton, men for Bob Dole. In 2000 women voted for Al Gore by 11 points, while men demonstrated an opposite preference.

Close analysis of the last election also yields some interesting facts. Page Gardner of the Women's Vote project has identified single women as "the single largest demographic group of non-voters." In 2000, 16 million of them never even registered and 21 million registered single women didn't bother to vote on election day. According to Gardner, these women are politically alienated. Who, besides NOW, has a voice that will reach and stir these women? They alone would have made the difference in 2000 in many key states, and we must awaken them to make the difference in 2004.

With so much at stake, the NOW Political Action Committee is refining our electoral goals and working hard to raise the funds needed to support this invaluable work. Because NOW's power is in our grassroots activists, we must mobilize our members for a massive campaign throughout the nation. This important work has already begun and will escalate as we near November.

In addition to the popular Political Institute, offered again at the 2003 National NOW Conference in Virginia, we have organized Drive for Equality workshops and training sessions in the past few months at the Women with Disabilities and Allies Forum in Maryland, at the Pennsylvania NOW conference in Philadelphia, and at meetings in Washington state and Oregon. In mid-January, we are planning another training at the Florida NOW conference in Clearwater Beach, with more to come, including another Political Institute at the 2004 National NOW Conference in Las Vegas.

Each of these locations has crucial campaigns where NOW PAC candidates will need strong grassroots support. A Senate without Barbara Mikulski's strong voice on behalf of women is inconceivable, so her re-election campaign in Maryland is a key race. Pennsylvania State Senator Allyson Schwartz, a strong NOW supporter, is running for one of the few true toss-up congressional seats in the country.

In addition, NOW PAC-endorsed Rep. Joe Hoeffel, D-Pa., is challenging Sen. Arlen Specter, who has been anything but helpful as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Specter has yet to see a George W. Bush-nominated judge he won't support. In Washington state, the re-election of Sen. Patty Murray is crucial.

Washington state also has an exciting feminist duo—current Attorney General Christine Gregoire is running for Governor and former state Insurance Commissioner Deborah Senn is running to succeed Gregoire as Attorney General Both women, long supported by Washington NOW PAC, are well positioned to win their races.

In Oregon, we must make sure that Rep. Darlene Hooley is re-elected in her difficult district, though we were deeply disappointed that Ron Wyden, a long-time NOW PAC endorsed Senator, supported the terrible medicare bill.

We have seen the devastation that can occur when right-wing leaders take over our government. This year, NOW activists must commit to electing women's rights supporters to take their place. The Drive for Equality will take much hard work and unprecedented funding, but ultimately it will pay off as we regain control of our lives and our country.

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